08/29 – World Crisis, Our Tipping Point, and a Radical Integral Ecology

August 2018 / Book Excerpt

Terry Patten

Terry Patten

(adapted from Chapters 1 and 5 of A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries © 2018 available from North Atlantic Books)

There is overwhelming evidence that we are living at an enormous global tipping point—“the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”(1). There are many signs—from actual weather and ecological events to volumes of shocking data—that point to the conclusion that our planet and biosphere, our life-support system, is in deep trouble. The consensus of the world’s environmental scientists is that our species is encountering an epochal array of global and environmental challenges that threaten the future of industrial civilization and human-friendly planetary conditions.

It is hard to imagine a threat that is better able to elude our understanding and response—one that is more abstract, insidious, inconvenient, and spectral—than the presence of too much human-originating carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. It is colorless and odorless—utterly invisible. The biggest sources are distant from our own locus of control. The worst effects are still in the relatively distant future. The identities of the victims and their dates of reckoning are unknown, yet we need to act now if they are to be spared. Full understanding of the problem requires scientific sophistication far beyond that of most citizens, politicians, and journalists—and any action taken against this threat will require the agreement and understanding of politicians, business interests, and the electorate. Meanwhile, amidst simmering culture wars, vested interests are already using and will continue to use sophisticated disinformation campaigns to turn voters and decision makers against such actions, intensifying polarization and gridlock, and blocking our collective capacity to comprehend and respond proactively to any aspect of our ecological predicament (which goes well beyond climate).

At the same time, there are many reasons for hope. Solar and wind power and electric vehicles are enjoying an enormous boom, with rising efficiencies and falling prices. The majority of the world’s nations have expressed commitments to counter climate change, and public opinion around the world supports strong action. Humans have already devised and begun implementing technological and policy initiatives that, if widely implemented, could—according to scientific experts from multiple disciplines—not only halt the growth of carbon emissions but actually begin to reverse global warming within a generation.

But these are each massive projects, and even efforts to implement demonstrably effective existing solutions are meeting formidable resistance. We don’t have agreements—the political and popular will—to enact all those solutions on the scale and schedule called for. Instead, cultural wars and political conflict are intensifying. Wars and economic instability threaten to further disrupt progress. And climate change is only one facet of our enormous ecological predicament. Meanwhile, contemporary culture is focused on more “immediate” concerns. In addition to the elusive nature of global warming, a tangle of additional causes and effects conspires to further distract, divert, numb, or dull human beings into incomprehension of our actual situation and of the full scope of our wickedly complex challenges. In broad terms, these impediments to understanding fall into two categories. One is the elusive nature of our wicked, complexifying and fast-accelerating collective predicament. The other relates to the fact that the very structure of the human system is poorly suited to the task of understanding and responding to the kinds of challenges we now face, due to glitches in human nature and neurology, affecting both individuals and collectives. These two types of impediments affect all of us—not just “climate deniers” and the scientifically ignorant. Every one of us is playing our part in what from many perspectives appears to be a slow-motion train wreck.

The complexity and enormity of our current predicament set it apart from any other problem humanity has faced in its history. Every systemic challenge is intertwined with a host of others, all highly dynamic. Ecological problems are intertwined with economic, political, social, and cultural dynamics. For a committed activist, even deciding where to focus first is daunting enough. Without an understanding of the nature of this territory, we run the great risk of assuming we can solve our current problems in the same ways—and as readily—as we’ve eventually solved most of our other challenges historically. That would be a grave mistake.

In the face of these wicked global challenges, the temptation to space out, or to narrow our view down to a single limited perspective that we can imagine accounts for them, is nearly overwhelming. That is why climate denial has so much political and cultural force. In order to discover the truth about our world, we need to notice the deep ways that economically incentivized innovation is reverse-engineering our brains and nervous systems, enabling the human collective to systematically deceive itself.

In a 2009 article in Nature(2), a team of natural scientists tried to quantify threats to our ongoing ecological life-support systems. They identified nine interconnected planetary thresholds that, if crossed, risk disrupting the “unusual” ecological and climatic stability that has marked the last ten thousand years. We’ve already passed three of the boundaries, are close to crossing four, and two can’t really be measured. We may be approaching multiple tipping points that could disrupt Earth’s capacity to support human life.

As of this writing, our most accurate measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) are 400–410 parts per million (far above the presumably “safe” level of 350 ppm, and inexorably climbing). Serious environmental scientists believe it is too late to prevent the dramatic changes associated with at least a two-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures, and that it will take a huge breakthrough in public awareness and enormous changes in our lifestyles to keep increases from rising much further.

What does this imply? The climate is already warming even faster than early predictions regarded as “worst- case,” and given the potential for runaway effects as tundra thaws and methane is released, many scientists believe warming is likely to accelerate, perhaps dramatically. We have already experienced increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Even more and bigger storms and floods and droughts are likely, as well as major crop failures and famine, millions of deaths from heat waves, and even more massive refugee flows. These and other potential impacts are likely to continue to send shock waves and a cascade of chain reactions through our already vulnerable economic, social, and political systems.

But this tipping point does not just relate to climate and the biosphere; it relates to every arena of human and nonhuman life on Earth. We’re undergoing simultaneous crises in our financial, transportation, healthcare, educational and political systems. Human civilization itself is in crisis.

At the very same time, paradoxically, exponential scientific progress is projected, which means world-changing technological and social innovations are also increasingly likely. They may offer solutions to some of our challenges, and will undoubtedly create new, highly positive disruptions of our status quo. Thus, the future is indeterminate. Unpredictable change is perhaps the only sure thing.

For three decades I have been deeply contemplating exactly what we know and what we don’t know (and there is a lot we don’t know), and what this crisis or tipping point means for each of us, and what we can and must do about it. Like many others, I have passed through periods of disorienting despair, feeling—on the basis of persuasive evidence—that human civilization has likely passed the point of no return and is in the process of collapse. Along the way, I encountered the invisible fraternity of brave souls who have endured a dark initiation into these disorienting prospects, and I’ve benefited from their fellowship and counsel.

I have also been heartened by the fact that people have wrongly imagined doomsday since the beginning of time, and by the fact that Earth and its biosphere are so alive, dynamic, and unpredictable that no one knows exactly how things will unfold—which leaves us ample room for hope. A crisis, says one dictionary, is “the point in the progress of a disease when a change takes place which is decisive of either recovery or death.” And principles of physics offer another hopeful analogy. Nobel physicist Ilya Prigogine studied the levels of order in open systems, and discovered that as they become more and more chaotic, they reach a bifurcation point, where they either collapse into chaos, or spontaneously reorder themselves, “escaping to a higher order.” Prigogine believed human societies were reaching a bifurcation point (3).

So, I’ve been contemplating the multitude of fronts on which we are simultaneously arriving at the threshold of radically transformative breakthroughs offering promise for a disruptively wondrous future—including almost unimaginable, revolutionary scientific and technological advances, but particularly focusing on transformative advances in human consciousness, cooperation and culture. And I have not only come to believe in our potential to evolve into a life-sustaining society, I have made it my life’s commitment to help bring that into being.

But a serious conversation cannot begin, especially among people steeped in a cultural climate permeated by denial, without the proverbial “two-by-four across the forehead.” Thus, we have begun. Let’s also look at how we got into our civilizational predicament. Although we’ve approached these critical thresholds only recently, the basic recipe that has gotten us here has been cooking for centuries. For the past five hundred years, Western civilization has grown by expanding into new frontiers that supplied functionally unlimited resources—first by colonizing the New World, and then through new levels of technological, industrial, and agricultural efficiency, powered by fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources. We have consumed a great proportion of the nonrenewable resources we can efficiently mine or drill (including metals, minerals, and especially fossil fuels). Meanwhile, we are each personally and collectively embedded in a capitalist industrial economy that requires perpetual growth.

A healthy future for humanity requires a healthy living planet (4). And a growth economy based on constant material expansion eventually becomes incompatible with the health of a finite global ecosystem. To radically re-engineer our civilizational systems, we will have to simultaneously re-engineer ourselves. This requires whole system transformation—including a healthier, more creative, more compassionate and engaged humanity than we have ever seen up to now. Both of these together—our Earth and its biosphere, and our own inner lives and life choices, individually and in community—constitute our life-support system.

The nature and unprecedented seriousness of our predicament presents us not only with great challenges but with a basis for radical hope. The more I have learned, the more I have found myself moving in two directions simultaneously—grieving more profoundly for the worsening state of the planet and opening to radical inspiration about what we can do on behalf of our future, even amidst great uncertainty.

Most of what I have shared here so far is well known. Books and media have educated us about our climate and ecological predicament for decades. They also report innovative technologies—actual and anticipated—with transformational potential. Learning to absorb the true implications of these apparently contradictory realities and to respond effectively to the urgency of our predicament calls for us to develop and deepen our capacity to hold contradictions—and discomfort. But for this to begin to happen, we need to bring our hearts to the material, not just our minds.

We encounter much that seems contradictory. The way to take all of this in is to contemplate its implications at a deeper level than we are accustomed to doing—to feel it as well as conceptualize it. Take it slow, imagining the impact on your life, on everything you love, on your favorite places, and on your beloveds in the generations to come. This might bring you more in touch with the reality and seriousness of this conversation.

We humans are hardwired to engage in modes of denial or disoriented states of upset. By understanding our patterned responses, we have a chance to escape the inevitability of the gridlock that now paralyzes us, individually and collectively.

There are two kinds of factors that obstruct our ability to grapple with the human predicament. On the one hand, there are the defenses and other mechanisms (largely fear-based) within has done so much to paralyze effective action in relation to our ecological and evolutionary emergency—but in less obvious (and often quite unconscious) forms of resistance to facing other inconvenient or complex truths. But there are also “external” factors—the confounding elements in the situation itself that impact our ability to take it all in fully and objectively. We face a host of “wicked” problems, under volatile, unpredictable, chaotic and ambiguous circumstances, and our future will almost certainly be shaped at least in part by entirely unpredictable but hugely consequential “black swan” events.

Meanwhile, most human beings are locked in a consensus denial of the severity of our ecological crisis. Among those willing to puncture that denial we often hear a clear and simple, morally based explanation of the recent history of human violence against the natural world.

This postmodern narrative holds that the arrogance of white European Christian men, powered by modern science, the free market, and the history of colonialism, has been the primary source of imbalance in our world. Its primal sin rooted in a presumption of separation between man, and nature, self and other, has given rise to the horrific predicament of having overshot Earth’s carrying capacity. According to that narrative, the modern mind, science, technology, and capitalism are evil—they are the source of our “evolutionary wrong turn.”

I believe there is valid insight to be found in this true-but-partial story—quite a bit more than some integralists admit—but there is enormous distortion too. The modern stage of development is the necessary foundation for postmodern and integral consciousness. And modernists are postmodernists’ irreplaceable allies if they are to restore respect for scientific evidence and rational discourse—a necessary task if human civilization is to avoid destroying itself.

A radical integral ecology is called for—in other words, an integral worldview that encompasses and fully recognizes and radically values the interrelatedness of the whole living planet (5). It expresses mature integral consciousness, which can make common cause with postmodern environmental consciousness, because both are willing to grapple with the moral implications of modernity’s destructive arrogance. At the same time, it is ready to join with modernity’s pragmatic, rational, and technical prowess in the service of more adequate and comprehensive solutions. It recognizes that our ecological and climate predicament is a four- quadrant affair. It poses a great series of technical problems, but it is more fundamentally a problem of consciousness and culture. A holistic transition is clearly necessary, but it poses a huge challenge, for reasons that have to do with the dynamics of cultural evolution itself. Humble, integral cultural leadership is required.

The crises of our time are chastening us and will in time require all of us to acknowledge the inarguable foundational truths of deep ecology (notwithstanding the common tendency for these truths to be conflated with other unfortunate postmodern excesses). “Conquering” nature was indeed a deluded goal that ultimately has been critically destructive to our own life- support system. The health of the “web of life” (even though some postmodern ecologists imbue it with a retro-romantic projection as an ideal, pristine and sacred state of nature) really is the irreducible foundation for the health of all human existence. This cannot be theorized away. Where the biosphere goes, so goes humanity. And postmodernists are not mistaken in noticing an awe-inspiring degree of dynamic synergy among living things that is suggestive of the Gaia hypothesis and much more. Our biosphere has both exteriors and interiors. The interior, “spiritual” discovery of deep ecology is that the less- articulated consciousness of animals, plants, and the interrelated living planet is far wiser and more intelligent than modernists fully appreciate.

A radical integral understanding of ecology embodies a hidden synergy between deep ecology and integral philosophy. Deep ecology invites us into a shift in perspective about our place and purpose in the cosmos. The proper understanding and conduct of human culture and behavior, deep ecologists tell us, must be rooted in the perception of our limited place within the larger biosphere whose life and health is the foundation of our own.

Integralists can fundamentally agree: the holarchic nature of existence means that more complex forms of life are dependent on the prior, simpler ones. “Higher” levels have more depth or complexity, but “lower” levels are more fundamental. In a fragmented world, it is sometimes necessary to stand the hierarchy on its head and revere the “lower” as “more important.” Truly integral consciousness values the whole spiral or spectrum of evolutionary development. Life has profound value beyond that of lifeless matter, for instance, but without matter there would be no life. This is also true for every stratum of life on Earth: each newly evolving form of life grows inextricably out of earlier life forms, with which they are interwoven. We are the sons and daughters of the trees.

Deep ecologists realize that human happiness, sanity, and fulfillment depend on a healthy natural world. They have come to recognize that there is a profound myopia in our historical anthropocentric arrogance. They spend time in nature and awaken to awe and wonder in relation to the whole family of life. Opening into communion with plants, animals, and natural places, they are relieved of an underlying stress they had not previously recognized. They realize that industrial human civilization’s whole relationship to life is subtly painful, because it depends on separation, the effort to subdue and exploit nature, to stand apart and superior.

This shift of perspective goes to the psychic roots of our environmental crisis, which is something we experience not just outwardly, in the form of imbalances in nature, but inwardly, as a subtle, craven, driven dissociation from our embodied relationship to the natural world. We are uplifted by recognizing and feeling that we have many relations in the larger family of life.

But deep ecology is, on its own, sorely incomplete. To fulfill its aspirations, it will need to grow into integral consciousness. Both of these views recognize that human beings are part of a far larger, cosmic evolutionary process that gives our lives greater context and purpose, so both are inspired to commune with and care for the entire web of life. However, integral consciousness also recognizes that consciousness evolves, and that interior evolution is just as miraculous as biological evolution. Even while recognizing the immaturity of pathological anthropocentrism, integral consciousness deeply appreciates the unique creative potentials of human interiors, in individuals and in human collectives. Integral consciousness values the special depth that arises in human beings, including the dignities of modernity and the foundations of traditionalism.

Thus, unlike the extreme position of postmodern deep ecology, true integral consciousness recognizes sacredness in the highest interior human potentials, not just in the exterior web of life that is our foundation. It has the potential to appreciate the whole spectrum, empathizing with and, at least in principle, communicating respectfully and effectively with traditionalists and modernists; it can even contend successfully with the egocentric might-makes-right impulses of warrior consciousness. It outgrows postmodern impotence, which can “speak truth to power” but which cannot take and wield power effectively. It rests in a deeper trust of the process of cultural evolution, so it can imagine and participate in hybrid emergent solutions that combine technological advances with deep ecological reverence and restraint.

Thus, unlike weak relativistic postmodernism, integral consciousness has the potential to bring a new kind of steel into the spine of its powerful cultural and social leadership and constructive (versus deconstructive) creativity. This can find expression in every realm of human affairs, from business to public policy, to twenty-first-century science and technology, to academic philosophy, to arts and literature, to popular culture. It can take us beyond the impotent “anti- heroes” of ironic postmodern art to a new full- throated “post-ironic” affirmation of human values and virtues that integrate with our whole natural world.

However, a radical integral ecology will also awaken beyond the immature tendencies of nascent integral culture, including reactive rejection of and distancing from the many valid dimensions of postmodern sensibilities and the tendency to naively imagine that evolution’s creativity will automatically solve all problems. The continued evolution of human culture and human beings is not at all assured. The awe and sense of optimism that arises when we take in the glory and complexity of the evolutionary process is a powerful inspiration and it helps us awaken beyond simplistic materialistic models of cause-and-effect. Even so, evolution isn’t simply a guaranteed linear path of increasing complexity and depth. The dinosaurs were an evolutionary cul-de-sac. They did not spawn the next phase of life’s evolutionary expression. Humans must make many good choices if we are not to become another evolutionary dead end.

A radical integral ecology will also express a truly integral spirituality. It will integrate transcendental spirituality and intuitions of higher states of consciousness with reverent worship of the immanent sacred living earth. It will be awake to the divinity of what is “highest” and truly universal, the nondual conscious light that is the essence and very Mystery of existence. But it will be equally awake to what is “deepest” and most fundamental, the embodied ground of all human experience—earth and sky and the four directions worshipped by our most ancient earth-based spiritual traditions, through which we express our brotherhood and sisterhood with all our incarnate relations (the whole human and more-than-human family, including the plants and fellow creatures). It will also acknowledge that the evolutionary process of “transcending and including” is disorderly and imperfect, as we are. What is “transcended and included” as we grow in awareness is not always mastered or retained in a whole or healthy way. It is not regressive to reengage and reemphasize aspects of prior states and structures of consciousness that have not been fully integrated. In fact, doing so is sometimes necessary to building a broader foundation for the pyramid of total personal development. This is especially true with regard to regaining a full and healthy relationship with the natural world.

Whether one begins with a sympathy for deep ecology or integral theory, any serious observer of this moment in human history should be able to acknowledge that we are facing a crisis that cannot be surmounted without leadership grounded in the enduring truths of both of these paradigms. And we cannot preserve what is best through technological innovation alone. A dramatic reduction of the pace of human consumption and destruction of the natural world is inevitable. The only benign scenario by which this can be accomplished is through a profound and comprehensive cultural turnaround, a great transition. We will need both interior and exterior change, including transformations of the psychology and behavior of individuals and societies. A radical integral ecology is thus necessary and inevitable.

Radical integral ecology is characterized by solutions that are both “nonzero-sum” and “out of the box.”

Non-zero-sum means win-win: that one party’s gain is not another party’s loss. We are called to take a more comprehensive view of who and what is involved in any solution, so that the impact on the commons—especially the air, water, forests, wildlife, and earth we share—is never neglected. Future solutions must actually be win-win-win—wins for both sides of whatever human interests are competing, and also a win for the health of the whole. But not dogmatically. Win-win solutions are not always possible; sometimes it is necessary to fight for a single position against others. At times an integral approach to ecology may simply need to engage a battle (for a carbon tax, for example, or other appropriate public policies).

Knowing that the perfect is the enemy of the good, integralists won’t be so paralyzed by the desire to create non-zero sum transactions that they will miss opportunities to create positive change. The integral flavor takes righteousness out of the equation so that we can actually hear and respond humanely to one another, rather than be boxed in by identities or polarities.

An integral approach isn’t going to think only in familiar “boxes” or categories, focused merely on how to improve our existing systems. Integral approaches will address these problems in a whole variety of ways that defy the frameworks through which we are used to seeing them. One out-of-the-box approach that has already caught the global imagination is to educate girls in the developing world. Another equally significant priority is to make fossil fuels noncompetitive. Many out- of-the-box approaches are bubbling up all through culture and the integral evolutionary community. Some integral initiatives make an entrepreneurial art form out of incubating new out-of-the-box communities, artistic creations, or ideas. New technologies will also be critical here: more efficient renewable energy sources, new types of batteries, and ideas that no one has thought of yet. Rather than merely incrementally tweaking the current system, we must also imagine how it can be bypassed. We are already creating more jobs in the United States with solar and wind than we are with coal; they could already outcompete fossil fuels in many situations if government subsidies for fossil fuels were eliminated. But even more radical changes are called for. Evolutionary tension is building for exponential advances, and so is the integral impulse to imagine them, and to extrapolate into the territory ahead.

Because these are integral approaches, they won’t exclusively focus on such exterior technical solutions and systems upgrades (the right-hand quadrants), but also will take into account the interiors of the individuals and communities who must implement and sustain them (the left- hand quadrants). The integral four-quadrant matrix is out-of-the-box—it makes us think beyond any specialized area of expertise. Most people already understand that transitions to renewable energy in communities dependent on the coal economy will collide with the attitudes, needs, and identities of their workers and residents. What may be harder to imagine is the pervasive cultural transformation that will necessarily occur as human societies radically economize our consumption of nonrenewable natural resources.

No matter how many great, out-of-the-box, non-zero-sum, technologically dazzling, socially minded, and economically generative innovations we develop, the true test of a radical integral ecology will come from our capacity to communicate with, cooperate with, tolerate, and care for one another. Cultural fragmentation and conflict, and the cynicism and resentment that enable them, are environmental poisons. The real ecological crisis is not a merely practical and technical problem, but equally a crisis of relationships and collective will, a cultural crisis.

The wickedly complex nature of our current set of problems, combined with the illusion that technological progress can be counted on to regenerate limitless resources, and the embedded consensus assumptions of human society, into which we are all inexorably drawn—have made it dramatically difficult for any individual or group to know exactly what is happening, let alone for a whole society to understand and agree on what is happening and what to do about it. And what we over-simplistically call “climate change” is itself only one facet of a larger ecological and cultural predicament that is the most “wicked” and elusive problem we have ever faced, because it reveals or hides itself in so many ways, and it affects literally everything.

How do we get from where we are now to where we are required to be?

As we have seen, none of the great issues of our time can be effectively solved without acknowledging and then meaningfully addressing our climate emergency and broader ecological predicament. But those issues are intertwined with the whole structure of our lives, of our societies, and of human civilization. They challenge our whole way of life. And, as we have also seen, we cannot fully accept this challenge until we begin to understand and change the circumstances—both external and internal to us—that have kept this urgent imperative off our radar. Whole-systems change is required, and in a real sense it must begin inside ourselves.

But how to begin? Nothing could be more confounding! Facing the impossible questions that our predicament asks of us is like confronting a multidimensional koan, an impossible Zen riddle that has no direct answer the mind can devise and understand, but which must nonetheless be answered.

Classically, a koan is pondered for minutes, hours, days, years, or even a lifetime. Eventually it confounds the conventional mind, awakening insight and transforming one’s whole way of being. The question transforms the questioner, awakening at least a glimpse of higher consciousness. The practitioner stays present to the koan by “living the questions” and “loving the questions” over time, until they reveal their answers (and then even deeper questions), as Rilke wrote to his young poet friend Franz Kappus.

Among the most famous classic koans are “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and “Show me your original face, the one you had before your parents were born!”

Dogen, the founder of Zen Buddhism and koan practice in Japan, wrote Genjo Koan, a monograph in which he pointed to the inseparability of life and practice, and called for recognizing the koans given to us by life itself. He might have called our world crisis the great Genjo Koan of our time, the existential Genjo Koan of humanity’s whole evolutionary trajectory.

Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to face these impossible questions, this Genjo Koan. If we face the questions of our time; if we recognize that they really cannot be avoided; and if we acknowledge how important, real, and existential they are, we will have accepted our mission. If we don’t numb and distract ourselves, these deep questions will inevitably affect us. Facing them will deepen, awaken, and transform our consciousness, our whole way of being, and our behavior.

Once this challenge is accepted, the real work begins—and this work takes place both inside and outside of us. It will give rise to new conversations, connections, communities and practices. It will require quantum leaps in maturity, consciousness, cooperation, and dedication, as well as in technological and social innovation. It requires new creativity at the levels of the individual, the local community, the virtual community, institutions, corporations, cities, and nations. It will require us to develop and express creative potential that has been virtually untapped—or, all too often, sabotaged—until now. It involves, in countless ways, the need to translate abstract ideas into concrete terms, and to discover what mandates such knowledge creates. And—starting at the level of every individual—it involves taking stock of where we are, and who we ultimately are.

I believe the only way we as individuals can come to terms with the many dimensions of our ecological crisis—and with all of our built-in resistance to acknowledging and acting upon it—is to find ways to participate in conscious, effective, connected communities, and act together. This is wise in any case, regardless of our future. Our best security will be our families, our friendships, our communities, our ability to be self-responsible, resourceful, and resilient—and these connections are also how we can reweave the social fabric, at a new level.

Our psychological, social, and spiritual resilience will become our most essential capital. More important, our thriving may depend on our ability to work with our fear and discomfort, find happiness and peace amidst sorrows and difficulties, and bounce back creatively after traumatic setbacks.

That is why it’s so crucial, regardless of ultimate outcome, that we cultivate our best capacities and form intimate spiritual friendships that can grow into a broader social movement inspired by a grounded, healthy, and responsive spiritual vision. I believe such responses will emerge organically from practices and activities we can all engage in.

We will eventually cooperate. If we do so relatively soon, and with massive creativity and synergy, in ways I point to in my book, A New Republic of the Heart, a truly auspicious future could well await us. Whatever comes, we’ll have a right and deeply meaningful relationship to our apparently “dark” times. Together, we can forge a productive path through a landscape that will undoubtedly be forever altered, literally and figuratively. It will be a future of joy and wonders as well as destruction and heartbreak—as is our present moment. It will be shaped by human beings, and by what is best in our collective character and imagination. If, that is, we bring our whole selves to the task — and wake up, and grow up, and clean up, and show up —and also link up with each other and sync up a new level of collective coherence.


1          Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2000), 12.

2          Johan Rockstrom et al, “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Nature 461 (September 24, 2009), 472–75. (Link at www.nature.com/news/specials /planeteryboundaries/index.html#.feature.)

3          Ilya Prigogine, letter to Bertrand Schneider (originally published as part of the proceedings of the World Symposium on Network Media, March 1–5, 1999, Poitiers, France—organized by UNESCO and the Foundation of the Club of Rome), First Monday, 4, no. 8 (August 2, 1999); journals.uic.edu/ojs/index .php/fm/article/view/687/597.

4          National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, Population Summit of the World’s Scientific Academies (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences Press, 1993), 13.

5          Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World, by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and Michael E. Zimmerman (Boston: Integral Books, 2009), conducts a rigorous and revelatory integral study of an enormous range of distinct approaches to understanding ecology, and points to what each perspective reveals. The authors account for, but do not advocate, a radical ecological approach.

About The Author

Terry Patten speaks and consults internationally as a community organizer, philosopher, teacher and author. Over the last fifteen years he has devoted his efforts to the integral project of evolving consciousness through the practice of facing, examining, and healing our global crisis through the marriage of spirit and activism. Learn more: www.terrypatten.com Download a free pdf and audio excerpt of his latest book A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries here: www.newrepublicoftheheart.com

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